Magazine article New Internationalist

Simply, the Punishment Machine: The NI Disects the Powerful Forces Behind the Crime-Control Industry

Magazine article New Internationalist

Simply, the Punishment Machine: The NI Disects the Powerful Forces Behind the Crime-Control Industry

Article excerpt

We are used to thinking of criminals as a tiny minority different from the rest of us. But, as unemployment and inequality soar, governments are investing in police and prisons as a way of dealing with a desperate and growing underclass. The NI dissects the powerful forces behind the crime - control industry.

Squeezing democracy

The traditional pro - police bias in the courts is becoming even more pronounced as defendants' rights are whittled away in the current law - and - order climate. High - tech policing as a means of social control widens the criminal net and narrows the rights of the suspect. Courts are clogged and prisons overcrowded. Mandatory sentences for certain crimes (drugs, use of firearms, multiple convictions) are increasing prison terms and narrowing court discretion. Legal aid to defend usually impoverished suspects is being cut back. The complex moral and philosophical issues involved with crime and punishment are ignored as the system 'processes' wrong - doers.

Crime panic

In an era of 'downsizing' in both industry and government there is a profound sense of public insecurity. Despite dropping or stagnant rates for most violent crimes (although an increase in poverty - related property crimes) sensationalistic media and opportunistic politicians have whipped up public hysteria about 'crime waves' and the 'soft' treatment of criminals. Crime panic often has a racial bias whether it is associated with Arabs in Toulon, West Indians in Birmingham, Gypsies in Eastern Europe or Afro - Americans in Georgia. Fear and repression march hand in hand with discrimination.

Privatization

The security industry has become a major growth centre in modern post - industrial economies. Private police and security firms; privately run jails and reform schools; prison design and construction; the manufacture of elaborate security technologies (alarm systems, drug - testing, identification procedures, electronic imprisonment); the production and export of police weaponry and riot - control gear: all these provide employment and profit. The crime - control industry forms a domestic version of the military - industrial complex, with a growing stake in the public purse. The panic - fuelled war on crime provides needed jobs and grateful advocates.

Expanding the net

The vast majority of matters dealt with by the criminal - justice system are non - violent, often petty. …

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